Uber’s driverless vehicles had one major flaw: They were not programmed to stop for jaywalkers. The Verge reports the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) finding that this defect may have played a significant role in a fatal March 2018 pedestrian accident in Tempe, Arizona, where a pedestrian was struck outside of a crosswalk by an Uber driverless SUV. In that case, the NTSB found that the SUV did not start to stop until about a second before impact simply because it wasn’t designed to recognize a pedestrian outside a crosswalk.
Failure to Recognize Pedestrians
The NTSB’s investigation also showed that multiple factors contributed to the crash. The pedestrian would probably be alive if Uber had not blocked its car from using a built-in automatic emergency brake. Another huge problem was the software’s inability to identify a person in the car’s field of vision and its failure to predict how that person would move into the vehicle’s path. Uber’s system essentially perceived the pedestrian as a vehicle, a bicycle and an “unknown object” in the seconds before the impact, the NTSB report states.
This revelation that Uber failed to account for jaywalkers has fueled long-standing objections from critics and safety advocates who have raised concerns about companies such as Uber rushing to deploy driverless vehicles, which simply are not ready for public streets. These types of findings are certainly casting doubts on automakers who appear to be eager to lead on groundbreaking technology, but are not doing enough to bulk up on safety measures as they continue to test these vehicles in the real world.
Not Ready for Public Streets
As Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety stated: Even the most inexperienced human driver knows to expect that people sometimes walk outside of crosswalks. This type of testing on public roads that “essentially chooses to ignore the realities of how people interact with public infrastructure,” is extremely dangerous, Levine says.
Our auto defect attorneys agree with safety advocates such as Levine that we need more federal regulation when it comes to driverless cars. It took the death of that pedestrian in Arizona for Uber to make “critical program improvements” so the system is now able to handle scenarios such as jaywalking. But we don’t know what else they are not telling us. What else are these vehicles failing to do in real-life situations? If the technology is not ready, companies should not use the public as guinea pigs. It’s unconscionable.